Follow up to “Personal Review for December 2013 - February 2014”.

I’m doing this review a little bit earlier because (a) I just graduated college and feel like I want to review what I’ve done within that context and (b) I can get back onto a Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec review cycle by doing a May-Jun review next. I’ve also had a shift in goals that fits well within this cycle as I start work at the beginning of July. This review covers 1 Mar to 17 May.


Michael Bitton is a graduate student in Media Production in Toronto. For his thesis paper, he’s been researching effective uses of media for doing good in the world. He currently sees the most potential in health communication and social marketing in the developing world. You can find out about his writings at his blog, A Nice Place to Live. I had this conversation with him on 26 Feb via .impact, but thought it would be good to cross-post the conversation here. I’ve added a bit more from the comments I’ve received from others.

Note: These notes are a quick summary of our conversation and may not be all that coherent. They miss a lot of nuance and may not reflect statements that both people agree to.


Some people have committed a great deal of their lives to trying to best make the world a better place. I’m trying to sit down with some of these people and learn more about their thoughts and motivations.

Today, I sit down with Boris Yakubchik. He’s the co-President of Giving What We Can: Rutgers and has been involved in the effective altruist movement for a long time, regularly giving away 50% of his income to the Against Malaria Foundation.


Recently, my university had a TEDx event, and I was one of the people that got to give a talk:

My goal of the talk was to present the idea that effectiveness in charity choice matters, with particular care to highlight the research of GiveWell and the work of The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

Here are my notes on how the talk went:


Recently, an effective altruist contacted me looking for career advice. This EA had previously been working on a philosophy Ph.D., but recently decided to abandon the field due to insufficient stable job opportunities. As abandoning the philosophy field is looked upon as very negative by those still in the field, this EA asked me to keep their identity anonymous. Therefore, this person goes by the alias “Phyllis Schmidt”.

Phyllis is currently looking at a wide-variety of options for what to do next, looking to make an informed “best guess”, work on that career for a bit, and then re-evaluate.


Phyllis is currently considering (roughly ranked):

  • I-O psychologist

  • Software engineer

  • Economist working on development (e.g., J-PAL)

  • Continue philosophy professor path


What started out as some links and commentary on a discussion of Pigovian taxation ended up becoming an entire post on my Tumblr instead.

And then I did it again. Now I analyze how much money matters in politics. Answer: it’s complicated?

One interesting way to think of ethics is as protecting you from yourself: “But why not become an expert liar, if that’s what maximizes expected utility? Why take the constrained path of truth, when things so much more important are at stake? Because, when I look over my history, I find that my ethics have, above all, protected me from myself. They weren’t inconveniences. They were safety rails on cliffs I didn’t see. I made fundamental mistakes, and my ethics didn’t halt that, but they played a critical role in my recovery.”

Speaking of very lengthy discussions, here’s one on libertarianism, and why it’s sorta wrong sorta misguided sorta maybe? On the other end of things (by the same author), we get a left-libertarian manifesto. Left-libertarianism sounds pretty good to me, quite in line with my discussion of Pigovian taxation earlier.

An interesting study looks at how donors respond to evidence of effectiveness in advertisements of charities. The paper hypothesizes that those who are altruistically-inclined respond positively to evidence, whereas those who are donating to seek a “warm glow” of personal happiness respond negatively to evidence.

A new Pew survey finds that Americans don’t feel ready for a future of driverless cars, lab grown meat, and servant robots. However, as “From Yuck to Yippee” in Reason Magazine points out, people tend to be opposed to new potential technology right until they become actual, like in vitro fertilization.

Once upon a time, I wrote a summary of “earning to give”, or the idea of looking specifically for a high paying job in order to earn a lot of money, and then use your large disposable income to donate to charity. Now, Pablo Stafforini has expanded that work into a larger annotated bibliography.

You may have heard that 90% of all medical research is flawed. Turns out that this claim is flawed.

v1.8.22 - Last Update: 22 Apr 2014 1:50p EDT - by Peter Hurford (with lots of help)

UPDATE: Thanks to someone in the comments, I found a new resource for learning programming called The Odin Project, and dare I say it, I think it’s better than my guide. I took detailed notes on it here, and I urge you to read them if you’re interested in a slightly different take on learning programming.

The Introduction

So you wanna learn how to code? Whatever your motivation, computer programming and general computer know-how are good skills to have. Programming knowledge can be potentially high value for careers or start-up opportunities, and with not too much time investment, you can figure out if programming is something you would enjoy and be good at.


I was recently interviewed by Ryan Carey about the effective altruist movement, movement building, .impact, and work on the far-future. Yay!

Exercising regularly is really important for living longer, staying smarter and healthier, being less depressed, being more attractive, being more respected, and being higher energy. But what should we do? Recently, I’ve been enjoying the guides put together by Rob Wiblin and Romeo Stevens. Personally, I like to run twice a week and do the Stronglifts weightlifting program three times a week.


A friend asks:

What are other things you can wish someone well other than with their luck? “Best of luck” makes sense, but luck seems to refer to some specific external factors rather than just all external or internal factors, and “Hope you try hard enough” or something referring to their own actions sounds condescending and weird. What’s the best way to wish someone success?

In my opinion, if you’re wishing someone well, you’re already doing something that — taken literally — is irrational, as no amount of “wishing” will directly help them accomplish their goals.

Yet, well-wishing is rational, mainly because it’s a polite interaction to show friendship (or signal tribal alliances, if you’d rather) and because the well-wish can boost their confidence and actually indirectly increase their chances of success.

So maybe say “I hope this sentence shows my friendship to you and boosts your confidence in your own abilities!”

…or, for short, say “good luck”.

I use a lot of different apps on the internet to save time for myself. I thought I’d categorize the apps I personally use. I’ve tried to sort them from most to least relevant for who I imagine the typical person who reads this article will be:

Pocket: Allows you to save online articles to read later, even offline and across devices.

Workflowy: A collapsable outline for taking notes and thinking about ideas. Can be used to store and organize anything, from recepies to to-do lists.

AdBlock Plus: Remove ads from the internet.

One Tab: “Whenever you find yourself with too many tabs, click the OneTab icon to convert all of your tabs into a list. When you need to access the tabs again, you can either restore them individually or all at once.”